The physical presence of overseas exhibitors and buyers is crucial to the success of international trade fairs, but travellers continue to be turned away by Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic measures, the gradual relaxation of which has been described frustratingly as “squeezing toothpaste”.
As an Asian product sourcing event with a long history of 30 years, Mega Show returned on November 15 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre with only 700 booths this year, a mere eighth of its size before the Covid-19 pandemic.
We urge Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu to explain the following matters to the industry and the public. First, when will the Hong Kong government announce a clear road map for Hong Kong’s return to normalcy?
Second, given that anti-epidemic measures were tailor-made for the participants of the two major events this month, can a similar special arrangement be made for those attending large international trade fairs? For example, allowing those assigned an amber code on their vaccine passes to dine in specified restaurants?
Third, with the slow easing of the anti-epidemic measures that are tantamount to trade barriers, how is Hong Kong to succeed as a national economic platform for “bringing in” and “going out”, to fulfil its role in China’s 14th five-year plan?
Last September, Hong Kong’s quarantine measures for inbound travellers were relaxed to 0+3, meaning no hotel quarantine and just three days of medical surveillance. But the rebound in visitors has been lacklustre. On November 12, for example, the 14,624 arrivals were mostly of Hong Kong residents, with only 1,886 from the mainland and 1,635 from other places.
Though nearby countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Japan and South Korea are not completely free of Covid-19, they have loosened their epidemic measures much sooner than Hong Kong. As a result, these economies are expected to expand by 2-4 per cent this year, meaning that all of them have embarked on a post-pandemic recovery.
Like Hong Kong, these countries are export-oriented, and affected by interest rate increases and global economic factors. Yet Hong Kong is looking at an economic contraction of 3.2 per cent for the year.
Tourists bring considerable foreign exchange earnings. In particular, business tourists are high spenders. As the exhibition capital of Asia and an international centre of trade, Hong Kong used to attract many overseas business travellers every year.
Before Covid-19 hit, in 2018, more than 14 million people flew into Hong Kong, an average of nearly 1.2 million per month. In 2019, despite the social unrest, nearly 800,000 overseas tourists still visited Hong Kong in December.
Quite simply, Hong Kong has not relaxed its Covid-19 measures enough to bring tourists back. This is directly harming the city’s economy – stifling tourism-related enterprises, forcing travel agencies and restaurants to go out of business, and shrinking international trade fairs. The economy will continue to suffer unless the Hong Kong government takes serious action.
The battle against Covid-19 has lasted for more than 1,000 days. While daily caseloads still number in the high thousands, the number of severe cases and fatality rate remain extremely low.
The coronavirus has not been cleared, but the local economy has been emptied. The Hong Kong government has insisted that it will continue with epidemic prevention but the sad reality is that it is chasing its own tail.